Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

"A Verdict Worthy of Confidence": The Weakening of Brady's "Materiality" Requirement in Missouri

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

"A Verdict Worthy of Confidence": The Weakening of Brady's "Materiality" Requirement in Missouri

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

In 1993, Reginald Clemons was convicted and sentenced to death for his alleged participation in the brutal rapes and murders of two sisters at the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri. Over twenty years later, and after several unsuccessful appeals by Clemons, the Supreme Court of Missouri vacated his convictions. The court found that the prosecution had failed to disclose evidence to Clemons's trial counsel that suggested that he may have given his confession involuntarily. The court concluded that this evidence was sufficiently important that the prosecution's failure to disclose it undermined confidence in the trial court's verdict.

The court therefore held that the prosecution violated Clemons's due process rights under the Supreme Court's decision in Brady v. Maryland. However, Brady and its progeny held that the prosecution's failure to disclose evidence violates the defendant's due process rights only where the undisclosed evidence is material. For evidence to be material under Brady, there must be a reasonable probability that its disclosure would have changed the outcome of the defendant's trial. This Note will argue that the court in Clemons erroneously applied the Brady doctrine because the undisclosed evidence was immaterial. The result of Clemons's trial would have been the same even if the trial court had suppressed his confession because the State's evidence was over-whelming, and it simply did not need Clemons's confession to convict him. Because the allegedly undisclosed evidence was not material under Brady, Clemons's due process rights were not violated, and the court erred in vacating his convictions.

II. FACTS AND HOLDING

On the night of April 4, 1991, sisters Julie and Robin Kerry took their cousin, Thomas Cummins, to the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis to see a poem they had painted on the bridge several years before. (1) As they walked east on the bridge, the cousins saw a group of four men approaching them. (2) The four men were at first friendly, and the groups parted without incident. (3) As the cousins continued to walk east toward the Illinois side of the bridge, they heard the footsteps of the four men behind them. (4) At that point, one of the men grabbed Cummins by the arm, walked him away from the group, and told him to lie facedown on the ground or be killed. (5) The four men then took turns brutally raping the Kerry sisters. (6) Cummins stated that the men threatened to throw the Kerry sisters off the bridge if they resisted. (7)

While the assault was still going on, one of the men, who Cummins would later identify as Reginald Clemons, approached Cummins, told him that he had just raped his girlfriend, and asked him "how that felt." (8) Cummins replied that she was his cousin, not his girlfriend. (9) The man identified as Clemons then walked Cummins toward an open manhole and instructed him to climb onto the platform below, on which the Kerry sisters were already lying down. (10) The three cousins were then told to step down onto a concrete pier about three feet below the platform. (11) At this point, Cummins "saw an arm push Julie and then Robin off the bridge." (12) One of the men, who Cummins later identified as Antonio Richardson, told Cummins to jump from the pier, and he complied. (13) Cummins swam to the surface of the Mississippi river and "briefly had contact with Julie" but was unable to see her; he never saw Robin. (14)

Cummins somehow swam to the river bank and climbed up to a road at around 2:00 a.m. (15) He then flagged down a driver and told him "that his cousins had been raped, and that he had been thrown off the bridge." (16) Police later arrived and questioned Cummins. (17) When it became light outside, the police discovered several items that the perpetrators had left on the bridge, including "an unused condom, a used condom, a pen, some change, and a cigarette butt." (18) They also found a flashlight engraved with "Horn I. …

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